Posted by: danguard | June 14, 2009

Day 6 – Boats and Bungs

Well, it’s the weekend, and like a good little PhD student I spent Saturday morning back at the archives. As fate had it, I made some rather exciting discoveries. Yesterday I started working through the interviews conducted with Captain Kuttan, a former officer in the Royal Malaysian Navy of Indian extraction. There was a lot of good textural material though nothing particularly revelatory, until today that is. First, he talked about how he was put in charge of running the recruitment for the RMN, but upon having his first batch of candidates rejected by the naval board, he was told that he had to adhere to a quota system, 7 Malays, 2 Chinese, and 1 other race for every ten recruits. Consequently, many men were not recruited into the RMN on merit, but because they were Malay, institutionalised ethnic discrimination on a national level.

GeorgeGraham_468x462

George Graham - could have learned a thing or two from the Royal Malaysian Navy

Though Malaysia was an independent country by the late 1960s, British officers still held senior positions in the force, though this in itself is not unusual. Kuttan talked about a batch of MTBs (Motor Torpedo Boats) which had been ordered during this period from the Royal Navy but were constantly being delayed, much to his frustration as the officer in charge of training the men needed to operate them. Upon questioning his British superiors about them and why a penalty clause was not being exacted, he was told “you guys are not ready to drive Rolls Royces”. The British had been deliberately holding up the transfer of the MTBs because they didn’t believe the Malaysians were ready to run the vessels, or by extension their own navy, by themselves without continued British guidance. Even a decade after Malayana independence (1957), and with the retreat from East of Suez on the horizon, British officers still believed they had a paternalist role to play towards the ‘inferior’ races of the Commonwealth. Kuttan goes on to say that the reason the penalty clause was never exacted was because all the way up people were ‘on the take’ from the deal, which ran into several millions of pounds. It is a startling revelation, that British naval officials, who were only still there by invitation of the independent Malaysian government, were playing on their hegemonic relationship and Malaysian dependence to arrange ship procurements with British firms, so that they could make personal profit from the deal. It adds a whole new economic subtext to this complex post-colonial relationship.

Feeling pleased with my discoveries, I spent the rest of the afternoon taking advantage of the cloud and slightly cooler temperature to explore a bit more of the city centre on foot, walking around the old colonial core and river. For late lunch I sampled soft shell crabs, which were an interesting experience. I couldn’t tell you whether I liked the taste of them or not (I’m sure I would have, as I like normal crab meat), as they were completely overwhelmed by the flavourings of black pepper, garlic and ginger (and I hate ginger), but I had no problem with the texture or the prospect of eating them whole, the crunch of the shell is similar to batter. Afterwards I managed to pick up a discounted single seat ticket for Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow soloists’ second and final concert tonight as I enjoyed last night so much. I’ll save you from the in-depth review this time, save to say, they didn’t disappoint, mixing familiar classics by Bach and Tchaikovsky with some very stirring pieces by Edward Grieg, Max Bruce, and Paul Hindemith, and playing a lively Russian folk song for the encore. Highly recommended.

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